Archive for the ‘Home Education UK’ category

Shropshire’s Home Educated Children, “We’re Not Invisible”

21/07/2018

On Wednesday 18 July, home educating families from across the county joined together for a ‘visibility’ picnic. The gathering, in The Quarry at Shrewsbury, was one of many such events across the country in response to repeated accusations that home educated children are in danger because they are not seen regularly by professionals employed by the state.

In recent months the campaign to force home educating families to register with local authorities so that they can be “monitored” has been boosted by a Private Members Bill introduced by Labour peer Clive Soley. In response to these events the Department for Education recently carried out a consultation to which home educating families were invited to respond. However, the three documents published in connection with the Call for Evidence, consisted of almost twenty-five thousand words putting forward a complete and complex reinterpretation of domestic law and international Human Rights legislation.

Incensed by the tone and content of the government’s apparent take on this, families across England have submitted over three hundred constituency-based ‘Petitions to Parliament’ calling on the department to substantially rethink its plans. They warn that if the proposed changes are implemented they will affect every family, not just those who home educate. This because the long-established understanding that all parents are legally responsible for the education of their children will no longer be upheld. Instead, it will be assumed that council employees have prime responsibility for the education of every child in their area.

Alison, a mother of older children, commented, “I really wanted to come today to get together with other home educating families to show the world who we are and how normal it can be. We are all doing this because we really want the best for our kids. Many of us have sent them to school and the kids have had bad experiences like bullying or stress from all the testing. It’s not fair to put young kids through that.

“They need to be free to learn in their own time and space. My kids learn so much by getting out and experiencing real life rather than being stuck in a classroom with 30 or more other children and just one teacher in charge of them. My oldest has just done GCSEs and will be going to follow his interests at college next year. It’s not always easy, but I’m happy it was the right choice for us.”

Sue, a teacher by profession who now home educates, had travelled from Wales to show her support. She said, “The curriculum that we have at the moment is very narrow and it’s all about rote learning, and actually as home educators what we’re able to do is skill our children up with the ability to find things out for themselves in a creative and interesting way. I believe this equips them better for the wider world and society that they’re going to go into.”

Her comments were supported by Jasmine, home educating mum of one, who pointed out, “As home ed parents we strive to open up different doorways to offer our children alternative ways of learning.”

Other parents had travelled to London to picnic in St. James’s Park before delivering a letter expressing their concerns to senior politicians responsible for the Department for Education. In Darlington picnickers delivered a national petition signed by over 16,000 people to the civil servant responsible for writing the consultation.

On a lighter note, when asked if they had any comments they wanted to make, one group of parents at the Shrewsbury picnic spent some time trying to formulate a joint response. This brought about a delightful HE moment. They said, “We tried to come up with a quote to sum up our day, but we went off on a tangent talking of gears and bikes, which is quite typical of home ed conversations.”

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A Home Educating Mum Writes to Her MP

17/01/2018

Lord Soley’s Private Member’s Bill has reminded many in the home educating community what is at stake as in various ways big government seeks to assume responsibility for every child, over and above the responsibilities which rightfully rest upon their parents. In turn this has motivated many home educators to engage with politicians once again, as wholeheartedly as we did at the time of Balls and Badman.

A few days ago one of my contacts sent me a copy of a letter she had given to her MP the previous day. I thought it covered several points extremely well and it needed to be shared more widely, so that others might be informed and encouraged by it to also build up contact with their own MPs and other local politicians. Seeing it was not available on the web, I asked her permission to post it here. I am pleased to say she was very willing for me to share it with you.

If you find her letter as helpful as I did, please pass the link on to others.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear D,

Safeguarding is once again in the news and over the last few weeks the preoccupation with it in the media seems almost to have reached fever-pitch. With my background in mainstream schools and in special Education it is a topic very close to my heart but the coverage has been as misguided and biased as it has been increasingly hysterical.

The latest wave of articles started in October with a program on the BBC on children missing education. It chose a case of a young man from an ethnic and religious minority who had been failed by his school and tried erroneously to present this as the failure of the family, as typical of home education and to conflate a child being educated otherwise than at school with neglect and exposure to radicalisation.

Lord Soley has made several grievous and unsubstantiated slurs on parents, alleging erroneously that inspectors need powers for compulsory and routine investigation of families because there is a presumption to rebut that parents will not be fulfilling their legal duties and that children will be suffering neglect and abuse. Lord Soley suggests that it is parents who radicalise children and that school provides a protection against this yet all cases of extremist activity to date have involved people who had attended school. This does not of course indicate that schools are responsible for radicalisation.. social media seem to be the real channel.. but it does show that it is wrong to assert that parents are the problem and cannot be trusted.

The message increasingly is that children are at risk and that the danger from which they need protecting is their parents. The reality is starkly at odds with this assertion. As a former teacher and form tutor I know just how hard staff work in schools to try and keep children safe and with what devotion and yet also how increasingly unsafe the school environment has become. As a former Special Needs teacher at a psychiatric unit for adolescents I know how keenly both medical and educational staff care about meeting the particular needs of children and yet there is a crisis in school and general institutional support for children with Special Needs.

Budget cuts are a problem yet the worst aspect is not under-funding. It is policies and attitudes which try to turn teachers into enforcers of policies which often run counter to their better judgement and which fail to engage with parents and to listen to them. As Liberty has recently pointed out via its “place of birth, planet earth” campaign, teachers do not want to be turned into border guards. Neither do we want to be or have the time or knowledge or training or inclination to be psychologists, psychiatric nurses or social workers. As a teacher I am a highly trained subject specialist with a keen interest in supporting the education of each and every student. I may be the “expert” when it comes to a range of techniques for learning a language but I can’t do my job effectively unless I engage with and listen to those who are experts at understanding the particular child and these, in the absence of evidence to the contrary can safely be assumed to be his or her parents.

When I was a child the first Latin phrase I remember learning was “in loco parentis” and I was aware that I needed to do what the teachers told me to do because they were acting under delegated authority from my parents. This is still the case in law but staff in schools now are generally expected to behave as though the position were reversed; as though the parents were merely agents of the school. We were all clear about the vital nature of parental guardianship. Decades later, starting back in school this time as a teacher, I was perturbed that often I was being expected to supplant parental guidance. Now I regularly meet parents who express deep concern about how they are being routinely overruled in their judgements concerning their own children.

Parents are a child’s best advocates but those who have concerns about the curriculum are not listened to. Parents with children with Special Needs regularly battle in vain to have those needs met in school; often the school will not even acknowledge the need. Parents who tell the school about bullying are often simply told that their child is being “over sensitive”. Parents who decide their child needs time off for illness or for an educational trip are sent threatening letters. A mother I know, who is by nature a very truthful person, recently perturbed me greatly by explaining that she now routinely and without compunction lies to her child’s school because it is the only way that she can do what she knows to be in her child’s best interests without being either persecuted or having to withdraw the child. Others parents spent the weekend in A & E with their child and when he subsequently needed time at home to recover, received a threatening letter from the school alleging unauthorised absence. No parents should find themselves in these situations. A child may even be penalised for illness, as in the recent case of the little boy denied access to the Christmas party because he had had a day off due to asthma.

This issue is wide-ranging; it is as relevant to parents with children at State school as to those with children at private school or who are educated otherwise, to those from ethnic minorities as the general population, to those of all faiths and none. It also goes very deep; it calls into question the whole contract between the State and the citizen; the fact that elected representatives and employees of the State are accountable to citizens and not the other way about, the burden of proof on those who allege wrong-doing, the fundamental right to family life and to bring up your children safely and in accordance with your conscience.

A well-regarded and eloquent lawyer observed to me that when his son had particular needs in school he was not listened to; in his professional capacity he was taken seriously but when he was “simply dad” he was ignored. Yet when it comes to understanding a child his or her parents are the real experts. Officials, family and friends may set out a range of options but it is the parent who has the responsibility and the capacity to decide. Decisions with regard to a child need to be taken by those who know and love that child best and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the best way to educate and to safeguard a child is to assume that these people are his or her parents.

Yet it is becoming normalised to expect conformity by both teachers and parents with a nebulous set of dangerously ill-defined “British values” imposed from a distance and in a high-handed manner by and on institutions by often faceless bureaucrats which ignore the discretion of educators or indeed anyone who is outside of the system and not “on message”. Former children’s mental health Czar Natasha Devon has spoken of how government ministers consistently refused to engage with her. She said in an interview with the Guardian; “”If the government really wants to solve children’s mental health crisis,.. it needs to acknowledge the causes..”, cites the lack of quality family time and highlights the crucial role of parents in reducing stress and providing guidance.

The chief inspector of OFSTED by way of contrast is calling for completely unmerited and deeply undemocratic coercion and a top-down imposition of her views on parents and on teachers; calling for “compulsory education to make sure children acquire a deep understanding of and respect for the British values”, whatever she holds these to be. She has forgotten herself and her remit; her organisation was set up to provide a service to parents so that they could take well informed decisions regarding their child’s education not so that it would tell parents and indeed the rest of us what to do.

Chaya Spitz OBE chief executive of Haredi charity, the Interlink Foundation was recently quoted in the TES in response to the head of OFSTED’s view that all educators must conform to “mainstream thinking” as saying; “The chilling words of Ofsted chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, have a ring of Soviet-era policy. How was this allowed to happen? What has happened to …..parental choice?.”

OFSTED already has the power and duty to identify, inspect and close illegal and unregistered schools. Schools already have the responsibility to ensure children are only de-registered with parental consent. Social workers already have the power and duty to investigate families suspected of neglect. None need additional powers to address neglect, off-rolling or unregistered schools; all simply need to be held to account to ensure that they use the existing powers consistently and effectively and that they show respect for the judgement of a child’s primary educators; his or her mother and father. There are very serious issues with safeguarding but these have to do not with parents but with institutional failure; Social services failing to follow up and investigate even where there is clear evidence of neglect or abuse, schools off-rolling pupils they do not want without parental consent, inspectors forgetting what they were appointed to inspect..

Lord Soley and others in the public eye have been doing a grievous injustice in scape-goating parents for institutional failures and in so doing threaten to undermine our whole social contract, together with the safety and happiness of children. I urge you to hold Social Services, schools and OFSTED to account and to speak up for parents as the best champions of their own children, for the crucial importance and recognition of and respect for parental discretion and for the primary, irreplaceable role of family in education and safeguarding.

warmest regards,

KR